I remember the first time I read John Piper’s definition of femininity in “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood”. I was aghast. He defines femininity purely in terms of female responsiveness and submission to “worthy” men. (What constitutes “worthiness” is surely arbitrary.) And he defines masculinity purely in terms of leadership.
According to Piper’s view, leadership and submission is what distinguishes masculinity from femininity, and men from women. This is nonsense. How can all of diverse humanity, from every continent and culture, and from every age, be squeezed into two tiny restrictive categories with no overlap? Piper’s definitions are ridiculously inadequate.
I like what Stephanie Phillips Wilkins has written about definitions of femininity in her article below. Stephanie blogs at A Profound Mystery.
Two Definitions of Femininity
I’ve recently come across two very distinct definitions of femininity. One comes from John Piper’s book, What’s the Difference? The other comes from Jonalyn Grace Fincher’s book, Ruby Slippers.
John Piper’s definition of femininity:
“At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.”
According to John Piper, being a woman means affirming men’s leadership. That’s it. So, I’m not really a woman unless I’m affirming the leadership of men around me. All men. Do I even have a purpose on this earth if I don’t come in contact with men very often? Think about this definition…I mean really think about what he is saying here. My purpose, my life, as a woman is to affirm and receive the leadership of men. I don’t know where Piper got this idea, but I can’t find anything in the Bible to support it. (If anyone can find the Bible verse where it says that men should lead women or that husbands should lead their wives, let me know.)
Jonalyn Grace Fincher’s definition of femininity:
“…the unique, unfallen ways God shows himself on earth in women. . . . femininity is the way females are made in God’s image.“
Now, this is a definition I can understand. I am made in God’s image. I am a woman. It’s right there in Genesis: “He made them, male and female.” I don’t have any list of things to do to prove I’m a woman; I just am one.
Fincher’s definition may seem vague to some people. I think that’s because, as Christians, we crave rules. We want to be told what we can and cannot do. We want the law, in black and white. But it isn’t always going to be easy to know what to do. I believe God doesn’t tell us exactly what to do in many situations, because He wants us to seek Him, to pray, to cry out to Him for wisdom. There are restrictions on us as believers, but I’ve found that most things aren’t black and white. There are many gray areas where we have to seek, pray, and trust that God will show us the way.
Jesus didn’t come to give us more laws and rules, or to tell us to fill roles. He didn’t tell women to “get in their place”. He came to set us free from the Law. This doesn’t mean the Law has no value or that we can purposely sin and take advantage of God’s grace. But what it does mean is that we are free from prejudice, from meaningless restrictions on our personhood that are based on gender. Women and men should be free to pursue giftings and develop their talents and intellect in any area, regardless of their gender.
© 10th of May 2012; Stephanie Phillips Wilkins
Defining femininity and masculinity is difficult; especially as some (many?) differences between the sexes varies from culture to culture, and from person to person. Even John Piper has admitted that men can display what society regards as feminine traits, and women can display what society regards as masculine traits. I’d love to hear some other attempts at defining femininity and masculinity.